Newspaper article International New York Times

It's Time for Greece to Go

Newspaper article International New York Times

It's Time for Greece to Go

Article excerpt

Europe has more to lose from a Greece that remains part of the eurozone than from a controlled exit.

Does democracy trump debt? Of course not, not even in Europe. No bank clerk here would be impressed if a family told her that they had voted to have the terms of their housing loan renegotiated -- that's not how loans, either personal or international, work. Yet European leaders gathered for a special summit meeting in Brussels on Tuesday because the Greeks have done exactly that: voted against the conditions the eurozone demands for a third bailout program for their country.

Of course, negotiations are good in themselves. But even in Brussels, there comes a time when losing your nerve is a rational choice. I don't say it lightly, but I believe this point is here now. Europe has more to lose from a Greece that remains part of the eurozone than from a controlled exit, in which Greece softly steps out of the single currency.

Europe is a contract-based community of states that permanently agree on mutually beneficial rules, with the finest privilege (for those who do economically well enough) being membership in the euro club. What now is the greater threat to this project: a loss of a currency club member that, in the eyes of many, had been brought on board by mistake? Or, in scrambling to keep it in, the spread of an attitude whereby contracts count for little, and rules count for even less?

There was a point when things looked promising. After the European Union and the International Monetary Fund stepped in with their first two bailout programs, Greece made considerable progress on closing its deficits. Between 2010 and 2014 it implemented spending cuts virtually unprecedented in a developed country. Those cuts meant hardship to many in Greece. But they began to pay off: By the end of 2014, Greece was spending less than it was collecting in taxes (if you leave aside interest payments).

But the cuts to social-welfare programs and public-employee salaries also drove up support for the radical-left Syriza government, which took over earlier this year. It stopped the reforms and blurrily demanded other, bigger changes, including a "new deal" for all of Europe -- whatever that was supposed to mean.

It may well be that most of the 61 percent of the Greeks who voted "no" on Sunday to the latest demands for cuts by the eurozone countries merely want changes in the details of a new bailout deal with Brussels. Sure, such demands could be up for debate. Yet it has become hard for those seated across the negotiating table from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to believe he is interested in a pragmatic solution. The radicals who back him in Parliament want changes to the currency system and Europe's economic model itself. And while he may yet have a trick up his sleeve, Mr. Tsipras appears intent on using the outcome of Sunday's referendum to fuel his crusade against the chimera of a "neoliberal" Europe.

True, Mr. Tsipras dismissed his controversial finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. …

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